Food has always been a great equalizer. Sharing food and exchanging recipes have always proven to expand horizons and narrow divides. Being born in India, I was acutely aware of the epic India-Pakistan divide; be it a frenzied and heated nail-biting cricket match or sadly, a bloody battle at the border.
I was blessed to be born to very progressive parents and even though I was born a Hindu Brahmin, I, along with my siblings, was sent to Catholic school. Growing up in Bombay, I was exposed to many different religions, cultures and cuisines.
So, when my Pakistani friend Hinna invited me to dinner in her home, I was thrilled at the prospect of eating the homecooked food she promised me — made by her mother. The visit reminded me that the food her mother made was so similar to what my northern Indian friends would cook. Borders can be transcended by relationships and traditions, and food can be shared with love and peace by all.
Hinna’s mother, Shahnaz Parveen Quereshi, was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, and was married to Mohammed Ashraf Choudhry. Shahnaz learned to cook from her mother but was so interested in perfecting her skills that she took cooking classes, and regaled her family with amazing home cooked meals. In 1986, when the couple moved with their three young children to New Jersey, Shahnaz says they were fortunate to have an Indian Sikh family help them settle in. Complete strangers, they not only guided them but also fed them for several days until Shahnaz and Mohammed found their feet.
Parathas are a staple in northern Indian and Pakistani households. They can be served for any meal, as they are so filling. Parathas can be made with many variations — plain or stuffed with various fillings like potato, lentils, and radish, to name a few. They can be eaten as is or dipped in yoghurt or dunked in a curry. Tradition has it that they need to be made fresh and served piping hot as the family is eating at the table. Fresh parathas are truly delectable and mouthwatering, but they can keep for several days in the refrigerator and then be heated up on a flat pan.
Eating these parathas is true bliss. Simple magic made from flour and water that you can try at home. Thank you, Aunty Shahnaz.
- 1 cup whole wheat flour, best bought at a South Asian store
- 1 tsps salt
- 1/2 cup water to knead the dough
- Oil or ghee
- Knead the salted flour well to make a dough and keep aside, covered, for a few hours.
- When ready, make golf ball sized balls and roll out using a rolling pin or your hands to flatten into a disc.
- Gently place the paratha onto a hot flat pan, or griddle, liberally spoon about one tsp of oil (or ghee) around the circumference of the paratha.
- Pat the paratha with a flat utensil or a damp piece of kitchen towel a few times as it cooks.
- Cook 3-4 minutes on each side over a medium flame.
- When golden brown, it is ready to be served.
There are many savory and sweet fillings you can make to place between two parathas.
Renu Rao is a longtime River Towns resident who finds cooking therapeutic for the soul and believes eating right is the pathway to wellness.